RBx6, BPA, Zero RB, Zero WR, Late Round QB. They sound like a syndrome or a molecular compound for a rare protein. Whether you target specific players for each pick, use a hybrid approach, or employ a method uniquely your own; the fantasy football draft strategy is the most debated element to determine the success or failure of your fantasy franchise. Your team’s fortunes may hinge upon which strategy you choose and the right one may depend on your league’s unique settings including roster size, scoring system, and total number of teams. More importantly, however, is properly executing your fantasy football draft strategy.
In a recent article titled Embrace The Kicker, T.J. Hernandez from Apex Fantasy Leagues notes that many leagues are ditching their kickers. Whether we are doing this to take the inherent luck out of the equation, or because kickers are generally boring and barely football players, we’re still not sure. Hernandez argues that we should not just keep the kicker, but “embrace” the kicker. His logic revolves around the fact that inexperienced players will take their kickers too early, and thus leave more talent remaining for those of us who wait until the final round. In fact, he presents evidence that teams who draft their kicker in the final round score more total points over the course of a season than teams who take their kickers earlier.
Late round kicker is not a strategy, at least not a good one. It is or should be an element of your broader fantasy draft strategy. I not only agree with Hernandez’s take, I am willing to take it a step further. For league’s that are drafting now, or say prior to the final game of the preseason, I say take no kicker, and here is why; look no further than the 2013 preseason.
Dennis Pitta suffered a devastating hip injury during the Ravens training camp last year. Prior to his injury, Pitta was the TE6 coming off the board in fantasy drafts. After, he went undrafted. Amazingly, Pitta was able to recover and return for the final four games of the season. However, his late season contributions were too late to help most fantasy teams.
Ironically, Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin tore his ACL on the same day as Pitta’s injury. In Chip Kelly’s offense, Maclin would have been a steal as the WR 40. Riley Cooper almost certainly would have would have been cut after his racist drunken tirade came to light. Instead, Cooper wound up as the starting #2 receiver, earning a 5-year $25-million dollar contract in the process.
Before Percy Harvin decided to have surgery, he was being drafted as WR 8 at 4.02. Then, because there was so much confusion and misinformation from Harvin, his doctors and the Seattle Seahawks, many people were still drafting him with idea that he may only miss the first handful of games. Harvin did return, but only lasted one catch before returning to the shelf until the Super Bowl.
After a promising 2012 season where Danario Alexander scored 7 touchdowns in only 10 games, he was being drafted as WR 33, one spot ahead of Desean Jackson. Their years could not have gone any differently. Alexander tore his ACL during camp, and Jackson went on to be one of the top receivers in the league.
These are all training camp injuries fantasy owners powered through in 2013. If your league drafts really early like say, right after the NFL draft, you have to worry about even more injury opportunities. Michael Crabtree tore his Achilles during OTAs last year. Like Pitta, Crabtree was able to return for the Team’s final weeks snatching just one touchdown over 5 games. Had he not (and it still was anyways), this would have been a fairly crippling blow.
Last year was an especially difficult preseason for notable players suffering catastrophic injuries. However, there is a long history of players suffering season-ending injuries during the Preseason. The #1 overall pick in 1995, Ki Jana Carter, went down in his first preseason game. Trent Green opened the door for Kurt Warner in 1999 when he suffered his knee injury. Michael Vick missed 10 games in 2003 after he broke his leg. The list goes on and on, and we are just talking about a few of the offensive players.
Injuries are a part of the game. The players know this and so do the fans and fantasy owners. Certainly, there are some who are more injury-prone than others. I tend to severely devalue players like Harvin and Gronk who, despite their talents, can’t manage to stay on the field. More often than not, I let someone else take the risk on these players at their inflated ADPs. Either way, all players are at risk for injury. So, hedge your bets.
Already we’ve seen two notable backup running backs go down with season-ending injuries. On Friday, the Colts Vick Ballard tore an Achilles tendon. On the same day, the 49ers Kendall Hunter suffered a torn ACL. Both players figured to play a role this year, though most likely would not have been significant fantasy contributors. Just a few days into camp, the list of injured players will certainly grow.
Owners must think of each draft pick as bet against your league-mates that “The next player I draft is going outperform all other players available.” While taking a kicker early is a safe bet because you are certain to get some return on your investment, you are equally certain to get similar return if you wait until later. If you are a guy who absolutely must have two kickers, I’m urging you to take one, and do it in the final round. If you normally take one kicker, draft none. Wait. Wait until all preseason games have been played. Buy yourself another ticket to the lottery.
Take another rookie that no one else has scooped up, like Jarvis Landry, just in case. Get another handcuff, like Chris Polk or Matt Asiata. Take a flier on a RB buried on the depth chart of New Orleans or New England. Any of those guys could emerge has the top ball carrier before week 1. By the way, nobody is drafting Brock Osweiler. Don’t worry, your kicker will be there waiting when you need him.
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*Photo Credit – Lance Cpl. Kevin Jones via wiki commons.